Twenty-four years after the release of his first feature, “Metropolitan,” and two years after the release of his fourth, “Damsels in Distress,” Whit Stillman—the cinema’s novelist of manners, who reveals deep and enduring patterns beneath the shimmer of apparent frivolities—has written, directed, and produced the twenty-six-minute pilot of a TV-like series, “The Cosmopolitans,” for Amazon (where it premières tomorrow). It has a classical setup—Americans and other foreigners, members of a self-anointed social whirl, tripping through Paris—that, from the start, Stillman makes entirely his own, rendering it both contemporary and anachronistic, of the moment and rooted in time.
Archive for the 'Arts & Letters' Category
Deirdre McCloskey speaking on how the rich got rich, and how everyone else will too, at the Illinois Policy Institute, August 20, 2014
Posted by Lexington Green on 18th August 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
This will be an excellent event. Deirdre McCloskey talking about her most recent book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.
Her topic: How the rich got rich and how everyone else will too.
This is the message of America 3.0 as well, though we have our own spin.
The Illinois Policy Institute always puts on good events — including a modest charge for a great event and a very nice open bar.
This Wednesday, August 14, 2004, 6-8 p.m.
I hope to see you there.
Here is a short video of Deirdre McCloskey speaking, as a teaser trailer for the event.
…some additional Joy of Knitting posts found at archive.org.
Those who want an unlimited number of immigrants to move into our country always say sighingly, to the sound of violins, “we were a nation of migrants…”. Which means that as Eyties once used to migrate to other countries, now we have to be generous and take in a billion people. I’m not against immigration, provided that it’s legal and regulated according to established quotas. But I also think that, as Italy can’t provide a decent livelihood for millions upon millions of immigrants, it’s useless to attract them here only to condemn them to a hand to mouth existence. Better support the economy in their own countries. Likewise the same beautiful souls look indulgently on crimes committed by immigrants reminding us that “we exported the Mafia”. Alas, so we did. However, as foreign governments quite rightly adopted whatever measures they deemed necessary to stamp it out, so we shouldn’t condone immigrant criminality. It would be offensive to law-abiding immigrants, sending them the message that they are racially inferior and therefore unable to tell right from wrong.
Communism as a Religion 11/18/04:
The fact that communism is a religion first dawned on me in the seventies. It struck me that, for all their virulent anti-Catholicism, comrades weren’t after all that different from the most bigoted among their opponents. They believed in Marxism with such a blind faith that merely hearing a different opinion made them fly into a rage and scream “fascist!” with the zeal of an Inquisitor. There were lots of dogmas to believe in unquestioningly, the coming of the Revolution, something called “the centrality of the working class”, proletarian violence, and lots more. No one could depart one jot from the approved faith on pain of excommunication. The doctrine was Marxism, enshrined in its holy texts, and the main prophet was Marx, but there were other prophets, like Lenin. There were saints, like Che Guevara. The god of this religion was a somewhat nebulous figure, either communism itself or a mythical entity called the People, or the Masses, or the Proletariat, which did not in reality correspond to any actual group of persons. Comrades talked about their love humanity all the time, but if there was something they couldn’t stand it was people. Human beings are so messy, so unpredictable, always botching up beautiful dreams of a perfect society in which everybody would be free to do as he is told by the comrades themselves, for his own good, of course. Their idea of paradise, where everyone would be exactly like everyone else, would be brought about by the Revolution. Belief in the Revolution was a central dogma of their faith, the one around which everything gravitated. It was the eschatological event that would lead, through purifying proletarian violence, to palingenesis, to total world renovation. It would be the Second Coming, the Apocalypse, the end of time, freeing humanity from its chains and placing it outside history. With the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the final triumph of the communist god, there would be no more history. That is, no more anxiety-inducing change, but endless stagnation. Where was Satan in all this? It was capitalistic bourgeois society. An often repeated slogan in those days was “The bourgeois state must be destroyed, not changed”. Criminals were therefore seen as romantic outcasts, the victims of bourgeois society, and terrorists were heroes of the People who fought for the Revolution. If they had to choose between criminals (or terrorists) and their victims, comrades would sympathise with the former and blame the latter. Imagine the left’s predicament in these days. Towards the end of the seventies, when revolutionary ideals started showing cracks, many comrades went mad or even committed suicide. Now, they must either wake up, face reality and renege on everything they’ve believed in so far, or just keep on dreaming.
I once bought a book of John Donne’s poems. I found an Italian edition with the original text on one page and the translation on the facing page. Plus, there was a short introduction about ten pages long. So far, so good. I took the book home, sat down to read it, and got a big surprise. When I happened to glance at the translation I found out that it was much more difficult than the original. The critic who had done it and had also written the introduction was a deconstructivist. While Donne’s text was easy to understand and not at all as obscure as I had been told it was, the translation into my own language was incomprehensible, twisted and tortured, with short, abrupt sentences that did nothing to follow the sustained flow of the original. The translator had rewritten the poems to his liking, even deliberately altering the meaning of the words, but the result had nothing in common with Donne’s work. Determined to see all of the horror perpetrated, I tried to read the introduction, ten miserable pages in a mysterious Italian I couldn’t understand. In the end I gave up. The problem is that the average student who couldn’t yet read English Metaphysical Poetry in the original would have thought that was Donne. The same thing happens to all those who touch anything deconstructivists have been messing about with, like cultures and civilizations. Claiming reality doesn’t exist, they present their own mistaken perceptions as the only possible reality, and want others to behave as if that was the only truth available.
Posted by Lexington Green on 2nd July 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
[A]s some smart-aleck said, we must change or perish. And who should break our long postwar consensual slumber — not with a snog but with a short sharp smack around the head with a handbag and a cry of “Look smart!” — but the Iron Lady herself.
Mrs Thatcher meant, and still means, many things — some of which she is not yet aware of herself, as we are not. Only death brings proper perspective to the triumphs and failures of a political career; it is only with the blank look and full stop of death that that old truism “all political careers end in failure” stops being true. Only a terminally smug liberal would still write her off as an uptight bundle of Little Englandisms, seeking to preserve the old order, however hard she worked that look at first; voting for her was something akin to buying what one thought was a Vera Lynn record, getting it home and finding a Sex Pistols single inside.
She was just as much about revolution as reaction, and part of any revolution is destruction. Some of the things she destroyed seemed like a shame at the time, such as the old industries — though on balance, isn’t there anything good about the fact that thousands of young men who once simply because of who their fathers were would have been condemned to a life spent underground in the darkness, and an early death coughing up bits of lung, now won’t be?
Here is the original article. RTWT.
Let’s hear that one more time:
“She was just as much about revolution as reaction, and part of any revolution is destruction.”
I don’t know if I can really claim to be a science fiction fan – I am not hard-core, at any rate. I have had my moments with particular authors in the genre, I’ve been to a couple of cons (Salt Lake City and Albuquerque – the con here in San Antonio costs too much at the door for my budget) – I have all of Blake’s 7 on VHS tape (taped from broadcast on Salt Lake City’s public TV station in the early 1990s), most of Babylon 5, and I have purchased every on of Lois McMaster Bujould’s Vorkosigan novels when and if they present themselves in paperback. Oh, and I really enjoy Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but they’re not really science fiction – more fantasy with a wry twist. I watched Star Trek when it was originally broadcast – but who of the age that I am now didn’t, unless their parents were Luddites who wouldn’t have a TV in the house?
And Dad worked as a scientific sub-contractor for NASA, now and again. Something to do with circadian rhythms and space travel might possibly affect them, either positively or negatively, so –yes, science!
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That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis
This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.
Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.” What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:
The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past. One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.
Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody. It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people. It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all. But for those who do not accept those standards…
The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:
“Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”
Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.
Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury. One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:
“Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.” Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was. And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention? Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.
Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:
“I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”
“You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–”
“There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”
Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them. The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes. At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.) The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.
I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.
Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context. The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:
After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.
It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.
That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform. Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.
Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 12 Comments »
It was observed by Andrew Breitbart that politics is downstream from culture.
Be sure to read this post by Daniel Greenberg on the use of cultural technology in the culture war.
Related: this Grim’s Hall review of the movie Maleficent, a new version of Sleeping Beauty. The reviewer connects the implicit cultural messages of the move with the reaction of the Obama administration and its supporters to the Benghazi debacle.
Glenn Reynolds said today that “Personally, I don’t think we’ll fix America’s political problems until we fix its media problem.”
See also my related post Metaphors, interfaces, and thought Processes.
Who wants to sign up to do a review of:
1) One or more Joseph Conrad nautically-themed novels?
2) Moby Dick?
3) The Aubrey-Maturin series (either the series as a whole, or the early books)?
Ones I’m planning to do myself are White Jacket (Melville), The Hornblower Series (at least the early ones), and The Cruel Coast.
Michael Kennedy, with your considerable sailing experience I hope you’ll sign up to do at least one review for this series.
True Blue writes about his younger cousin, who just graduated from Columbia University. Previously, she attended a high school associated with the University of Chicago (where both of her parents are professors.).
Walking through a bookstore the other day, she asked me if “Dickens is worth reading.” I thought she was joking. Dear readers, I was very wrong. It so happens, through all of high school and college, she had never been assigned Dickens, Chaucer, Milton, T.S. Eliot, Austen, or Melville! The list went on and on. Needless to say, nary a Bible was cracked during all this time either.
Effectively, my cousin was raised without a heritage. Her American/English-speaking birthright was denied her. Though she thought herself in possession of a stellar academic background, she knows worse than nothing about her civilization. I say “worse than nothing” because her head has been crammed full of multi-culti garbage.
It will come as no surprise when I tell you that she read Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison in high school.
Personally, I don’t have much useful to say about Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison; I’ve read very little by either of them and with what I’ve read, I was not very impressed. I have, however, heard some of Maya Angelou’s work referenced in very positive terms by people whose literary judgments I respect. I think the point here is not that there’s anything bad about reading contemporary authors, but there’s plenty bad about reading contemporary (and highly trendy) authors to the exclusion of all other literature.
Thomas Bertonneau writes about his experiences teaching literary criticism in college:
Increasingly in our post-literate society, however, few students at the undergraduate level (and surprisingly few even at the master’s-degree level) bring with them much in the way of exposure to literature. Today’s students have read few books. What they have read is typically the topical, published-yesterday fiction that the hucksters of the scholastic book market sell to the middle schools and high schools as “edgy,” “with it,” or “out-of-the-headlines” portrayals of teenage anxiety…
Since I occasionally teach my department’s Introduction to Literary Criticism, I have had to think the problem through. When I recently received the assignment to teach the course again, I moved “proactively.”
A survey on the first day of class confirmed my expectations. Among them, the sixteen students could produce the titles of only eight novels that they had read (but that not all of them had read). Of the three most-mentioned (five students had read all three) were Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (2008), its sequel Catching Fire (2009), and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005). Four students listed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby (1925); one listed Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Four out of the ten coeds, but none of the men, had read Jay Asher’s adolescent female suicide-story Thirteen Reasons Why(2007). A few students had read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but none had read Hamlet or The Tempest. No student could name a poem by William Wordsworth, John Keats, or Robert Frost.
Read the whole article to learn how Prof Bertonneau approached the problem of teaching literary criticism to these kids.
Just about everyone has seen the movie based on this book, featuring Humphrey Bogart’s famous performance as Captain Queeg. The movie is indeed excellent–the book is even better, and contains a lot that is absent from the film. And while the film ends basically after the court-martial scene, the book continue to follow the USS Caine and key characters for the duration of the war. In this review, I won’t worry about spoilers re plot elements that were included in the movie, but will try to minimize them as far as other aspects of the book are concerned. After summarizing the story, I’ll comment on some of the issue raised by the book. (A recent article, referencing The Caine Mutiny, refers to Wouk as “the first neoconservative.”)
Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg, a rigid and insecure man, is appointed during WWII to the command of Caine, a decrepit old destroyer-minesweeper…the ship and its slovenly-appearing crew are described as being part of the ”hoodlum navy.” This is Queeg’s first command, and he is desperately concerned to make it a success, deeply afraid of making a mistake which will lead to his failure. Ironically, it is specifically this fear of failure and perceived need for perfection which is responsible for many, perhaps most, of his troubles. When Caine runs aground the first time Queeg takes her out, he fails to submit the required grounding report for fear of higher authority’s reaction. When the ship cuts her own towline while assigned to target-towing duty, Queeg cannot make up him mind whether or not to attempt recovery of the drifting target–and radios in for instructions. Incidents like these do not inspire confidence in Queeg on the part of his superiors.
The officers and crew of Caine also lose confidence in the captain as his obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes increasingly problematic. As a result of several incidents during combat, there are also concerns about Queeg’s personal courage. While no one aboard Caine likes Queeg once they get to know him, the captain’s most vocal critic is an officer named Thomas Keefer, an intellectual who is an aspiring novelist. Keefer has a cynical attitude toward the Navy, which he refers to as “a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots,” and advises Willie Keith, a young officer who is his subordinate, that “If you’re not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one.”
The ship’s executive officer is Steve Maryk. In civilian life a commercial fisherman, Maryk now hopes to make the Navy his career. Maryk is a fine seaman and a good leader, but not a highly-educated man–he is somewhat in awe of Tom Keefer’s intellectual attainments.
In repeated conversations, Keefer tells Maryk that the captain must be mentally ill, using psychological jargon and concepts that Maryk does not pretend to understand. Maryk is concerned enough about Queeg’s behavior that he begins keeping a “medical log” on Queeg, with the idea of presenting this to higher authority if necessary and possible. The time seems right when Caine shares an anchorage with the battleship carrying Admiral Halsey: Maryk takes his log, takes Keefer in tow, and heads over to the New Jersey to see if they can speak with the Admiral. But Keefer, at the last moment, chickens out, asserting that Halsey, with his experience aboard large well-managed ships, would never be able to understand the state of things aboard a hoodlum-navy ship like Caine, and that raising the issue with him would only get the two of them in trouble. Feeling unable to make the case without support, Maryk gives up on talking to Halsey and the two officers return to Caine.
But soon thereafter, the old ship encounters a typhooon. Fleet course is 180 degrees, due south–away from the wind–and Queeg refuses to adopt the safer course of heading into the wind even though communication with other ships, as well as radar contact, has been lost.
An unbelievably big gray wave loomed on the port side, high over the bridge. It came smashing down. Water spouted into the wheelhouse from the open wing, flooding to Willie’s knees. The water felt surprisingly warm and sticky, like blood. “Sir, we’re shipping water on the goddamn bridge!” said Maryk shrilly. “We’ve got to come around into the wind!”
“Heading 245, sir.” Stilwell’s voice was sobbing. “She ain’t answering to the engines at all, sir!”
The Caine rolled almost completely over on its port side. Everybody in the wheelhouse except Stilwell went sliding across the streaming deck and piled up against the windows. The sea was under their noses, dashing up against the glass. ”Mr Maryk, the light on this gyro just went out!” screamed Stilwell, clinging desperately to the wheel. The wind howled and shrieked in Willie’s ears. He lay on his face on the deck, tumbling around in salt water, flailing for a grip at something solid.
The Classical Unities are three principles of drama (derived , or perhaps misderived, from Aristotle) which, according to certain Italian and French literary critics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, should govern the construction of any drama. They are:
–unity of action: a single plot line with no sub-plots
–unity of place: the events should be constrained to a single location
–unity of time: the events should be limited to the period of a single day
One of the reasons that nautically-oriented fiction can be so powerful, I think, is that by its nature it often establishes certain unities: the action typically occurs in a single place…albeit a moveable one, the ship…with a consistent cast of characters belonging to that place…and, although unity of time in the strict classical sense of all action occurring within a single day may be rare, another sort of unity of time is often established in that events occur over the course of a single voyage.
I’m launching an ongoing project to post reviews of worthwhile nautical fiction, recent and not-so-recent, well-known and not-so-well-known. All ChicagoBoyz and ChicagoGrrlz authors are invited to participate. Movies may also be included under this review category, as may some nonfiction books, especially personal memoirs.
Books/movies I’m planning to review myself, in the not-too-distant future, include: The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk…The Hornblower series, by C S Forester, and White Jacket, by Herman Melville. Also To the Last Salute, by Captain Georg von Trapp (yes, that Captain von Trapp.)
Other books definitely deserving of reviews as part of this project include the nautical novels of Joseph Conrad, Melville’s Moby Dick and Billy Budd, and Nicholas Montsarrat’s The Cruel Sea.
Please post your suggestions for worthwhile books for this project in comments; also, for Chicago Boyz and Grrlz and anyone else who feels especially motivated, any books you would particularly like to sign up to review. I see this as an ongoing project since the universe of books under this category is vast.
I’ve read a great deal about the French defeat of 1940, attempting to understand the military, political, and cultural factors behind this debacle. (Some of my conclusions can be found here.) I had not, however, encountered a report Picasso’s response to Matisse, when the latter asked him, “But what about our generals, what are they doing?”
According to this article, Picasso’s response was “Our generals? They’re the masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts!”…ie, men possessed by the same rote formulae and absence of observation and obsessive traditionalism as the academic artists.
Picasso’s comment is entirely consistent with the observations of Andre Beaufre, in 1940 a young captain on the French staff and after the war a general. When Beaufre was promoted to a staff position…
I saw very quickly that our seniors were primarily concerned with forms of drafting. Every memorandum had to be perfect, written in a concise, impersonal style, and conforming to a logical and faultless plan–but so abstract that it had to be read several times before one could find out what it was about…”I have the honour to inform you that I have decided…I envisage…I attach some importance to the fact that…” Actually no one decided more than the barest minimum, and what indeed was decided was pretty trivial.
I believe that the kind of formalism of which Picasso and Beaufre spoke is becoming increasingly dominant in many spheres of American society (though hopefully not the the degree to which it pervaded the inter-war French military…and that this malign phenomenon is largely a side effect of the higher-education bubble, although it is also being driven to a certain extent by the growth of government and the increasingly-abstract nature of much work.
As a matter of interest as an independent author, with some affection for science fiction … (principally Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, and once upon a time for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, both of which explored in an interesting and readable way, a whole range of civilizational conceits and technologies with a bearing on what they produced vis-a-viz political organizations, man-woman relations, and alternate societies of the possible future … oh, where was I? Complicated parenthetical sentence again; science fiction. Right-ho, Jeeves – back on track.) … I have been following the current SFWA-bruhaha with the fascinated interest of someone squeezing past a spectacular multi-car pile-upon the Interstate. Not so much – how did this happen, and whose stupid move at high speed impelled the disaster – but how will it impact ordinary commuters in their daily journey, and will everyone walk away from it OK? So far, the answers to that are pretty much that it will only matter to those directly involved (although it will be productive of much temporary pain) and yes – pretty near everyone will walk away. Scared, scarred, P-O’d and harboring enduring grudges, but yes, they will walk away, personally and professionally. Some of these are walking away at speed and being pretty vocal about why.
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(Part of this essay is in a collection of reminiscences about living overseas – but Greece to me was very special, even in spite of a certain problem with terrorism in the 1980s. The opportunities to visit the Parthenon regularly, as well as other classical sites … well, I used to feel sorry for people coming through on a whirlwind tour. They had only a week or two to spend in Greece, but I had almost three years.)
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Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.
This wears well.
Stephen Marche, writing about the Oscars, asserts that:
The aesthetic criteria are pure cover, of course. The Oscars actually register which films the Hollywood elite think they ought to like. This is much more useful than a prize for merit. It provides a sense of the approved story lines of mass culture.
…and goes on to say that what he sees projected in the front-runners and in many other recent films is a hunger for normalcy:
This narrative is a marked change from previous years. Hollywood, and American moviegoers generally, likes the win. The common wisdom is that it wants not just a happy ending, but a triumph. Up! not down. Think Rocky. Think Gladiator, and Slumdog Millionaire, and Argo, and The King’s Speech….Obviously we can no longer stomach such victories. The story of overcoming and making a better world simply won’t fly anymore. Our version of winning, at this point, is simply being a human being, having your feet in the tall grass, having a family, being able to talk to a person in the flesh. Those are the “big wins” in America in 2013, at least by the lights of the nominees for best picture.
You can’t say it doesn’t fit the mood. We want everything to get back to normal. We want employment to return at the end of a recession. We want the American government to work again. None of it seems too much to ask, but obviously it is.
I’m reminded of a passage in C S Lewis’s fantasy novel That Hideous Strength. The protagonist, Mark Studdock, is being held captive by a sinister cult. The room in which he is being held is intended, via both its structure and its artistic decorations, to create a maximum sense of disorientation in the prisoner. But:
...the built and painted perversity of this room had the effect of making him aware, as he had never been aware before, of this room’s opposite. As the desert first teaches men to love water, or as absence first reveals affection, there rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight. Something else – something he vaguely called the “Normal” – apparently existed. He had never thought about it before. But there it was solid, massive, with a shape of its own, almost like something you could touch, or eat, or fall in love with. It was all mixed up with Jane and fried eggs and soap and sunlight and the rooks cawing at Cure Hardy and the thought that, somewhere outside, daylight was going on at that moment. He was not thinking in moral terms at all; or else (what is much the same thing) he was having his first deeply moral experience.
(Oscars link via Newmark’s Door)
(This afternoon I am working through my archives for materiel to post on the Watercress Press website blog, and I came across this post from … well, a while back. I thought it might be relevant, in these unsettled days and in light of various Boyz reminiscing about Tolkien and heroic days of yore. It might also serve as a departing point for a train of thought, especially when we need more inspiration than ever.)
I am not one of those given to assume that just because a lot of people like something, then it must be good; after all, Debbie Boone’s warbling of You Light Up My Life was on top of American Top Forty for what seemed like most of the decade in the late 70s, although that damned song sucked with sufficient force to draw in small planets. Everyone that I knew ran gagging and heaving when it came on the radio, but obviously a lot of people somewhere liked it enough to keep it there, week after week after week. A lot of people read The DaVinci Code, deriving amusement and satisfaction thereby, and some take pleasure in Adam Sandler movies or Barbara Cartland romances – no, popularity of something does not guarantee quality, and I often have the feeling that the tastemakers of popular culture are often quite miffed – contemptuous, even – when they pronounce an unfavorable judgment upon an item of mass entertainment which turns out to be wildly, wildly popular anyway.
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Yes, I know very well that that is; to be the in-house media functionary. Not quite the so-called ‘real’ news media, but to be an employee/technician/writer/personality for the in-house public affairs media of a large government element – the US Air Force. I wouldn’t be so bitchy as to call the various offices that I worked in – base Public Affairs, the stint with a couple of production detachments focusing on informational elements for various departments of government, and for the largest part of my service life as a low-level minion of the keeping-up-the-morale-of-our-overseas-stationed-troops effort – as an in-house claque … but yeah. I’m almost two decades retired from the game, so maybe I can. Yes, I – and all the other AFRTS, PA pukes and military videographers – we were hired, paid and maintained in order to further the public affair goals of the US military. No shame in admitting that. Good outfits in the main; paid only moderately well, and a smidgen of a retirement after all that – but good on the whole to work for, and any number of former military public affairs personnel have used the experience as a stepping-stone to careers in journalism, television, and politics, to name just a few fields.
The thing is – we all knew who we worked for; the military. And one of those lessons was that we should never reflect discredit on the military in our productions or in our actions in uniform. Fair go, being employees, we could not be seen to wash the institutional dirty laundry in public, and all. Public Affairs’ mission in the event of the dirty laundry coming out, was to spin so as to make it seem somewhat less dirty.
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…as prefigured in a poem by W H Auden:
He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports of his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of the old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the war till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
For his union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report of his union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day,
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows that he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High–Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A gramophone, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year;
When there was peace he was for peace; when there was war he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation,
And our teachers report he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
The association known as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has apparently been wracked, of late, by political-correctness insanity. SF writer Sarah Hoyt posts about her experiences with this organization. Not to be missed!
The politicization of all aspects of American life continues apace.
Posted by Lexington Green on 14th February 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
T.E. Hulme was a poet and critic who died leaving behind a very small corpus of work. Nonetheless, he is considered to be an influential figure in artistic modernism, and more tenuously, in modern conservatism.
Further, Hulme was an English version of a peculiar type of artist and intellectual that emerged in the early 20th century, which we rarely see anymore: A radical reactionary, a revolutionary conservative, or an anarchistic tory. On the Continent, these sorts of people tended toward fascism. An excellent book on this era is The Generation of 1914.
In the English speaking world, they tended to be religious and cultural conservatives. T.S. Eliot falls into this category. My favorite, Evelyn Waugh falls generally on this part of the spectrum, as well, though Waugh is a late specimen of the type, and on the more pugnacious side, which I like.
Here’s an English textbook, “The British Tradition,” which devotes 17 pages to Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein.”
Two of those are taken up by modern author Elizabeth McCracken telling students about the scary movies she watched as a child, including Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as well as dreams she had. Under the heading “Critical Reading,” students are asked what movies McCracken watched as a child. Another page features a hokey picture of a Frankenstein monster circa 1955.
In the margins of the Teacher’s Edition to the textbook, teachers are encouraged to ask their students what “classic” stories of urban myths, tales of alien abductions, or ghost stories they have heard. Examples include stories of alligators in sewers, a man abducted for his kidneys, and aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico. Students are asked to write a paragraph on “one of these modern urban myths.” The learning continues when students are challenged to write “a brief autobiography of a monster.” The editors lament that most monster stories are told from the perspective of “the humans confronting the monster.” They want to turn the tables by having students consider “what monsters think about their treatment.” Those poor, misunderstood monsters!
(As Joanne Jacobs notes, the lament that most monster stories are told from the perspective of the humans rather than the monster completely ignores the fact that much of Frankenstein is told from the monster’s perspective, albeit as quoted by Victor Frankenstein, the first-person narrator.)
Three pages out of the seventeen feature Mary Shelley’s actual words on them. But they are not selections from the novel or any kind of preparation for reading the novel. Rather, they are taken from an introduction Shelley wrote about writing the novel. The only indication that students are encouraged to read Frankenstein is a box in the margin of the Teacher’s Edition indicating that the “advanced readers” who are “interested” might read a “segment” of the novel in order to compare the monster to Shelley’s description in her introduction.
The book allocates five pages (two more than are given to Mary Shelley) to a script of a Saturday Night Live parody of Frankenstein. First, students are invited “to share their impressions of the long-running comedy show.” Again the talented-and-gifted students are called to the fore, as they are supposed to obtain props, costumes, and make-up that will enable them to “take roles and do a dramatic reading” of the script.
It seems that Jesus Christ returned to earth, sometime during the sixteenth century…at least, this is the premise of the parable that Ivan relates to Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. The city to which Christ came was Seville, where on the previous day before almost a hundred heretics had been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, “in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville. He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him.”
But the Grand Inquisitor observes the way in which people are being irresistibly drawn to Jesus, and causes him to be arrested and taken away.
The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy Inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.
“‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us?
I must have been in college (or possibly even just high school), when I read a thoughtful essay in TV Guide, of all places, to the effect that people all over the world who had never met an American, or been to the United States, almost always formed their impressions of us based on what they saw in the movies, or in television shows. As one of our AFRTS public service announcement tag-lines had it – foreigners don’t know America, they just know Americans – and the Americans which the overseas movie and television audience saw was usually not a very favorable one. This essay must have been put out in the early 1970s, so I imagine the general picture is even less favorable now. Just think of current popular TV shows with an American setting – and consider how America would look to you if that was all you saw, and all you knew was Breaking Bad, a dozen cop shows set in big cities, and half a dozen sit-coms where the characters spend most of their time in suspiciously well-decorated living rooms.
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One more batch…
Freedom, the Village, and the Internet. Will social media re-create the kind of social control once often found in the village community?
An Age of Decline? Is America in one, and is the situation irretrievable?
The Baroque Computers of the Apocalypse. The remarkable air defense system known as SAGE.
Book and Video Reviews:
Fly the Airplane. Two flight instructors write about their romance, their flight around the country in a 1938 Piper Cub, and the life lessons that can be derived from aviation.
Elective Affinities. Goethe’s novel about a love quadrangle.
Wish Me Luck. A very good TV series about Special Operations Executive agents working in occupied France during WWII.
Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane. RWL was both an astute and thoughtful political philosopher and a pretty good novelist.